Notre Dame-West Burlington reaches the pinnacle of Iowa high school wrestling with Class 2A title

Matt Levins
The Hawk Eye

DES MOINES — Bill Plein is in the Iowa High School Athletic Association Wrestling Hall of Fame for a reason.

On Saturday night, in the heat of battle, the Notre Dame-West Burlington high school wrestling coach made one of the biggest — and smartest — decisions of his life.

With junior CJ Walrath holding a commanding 10-3 lead over Fernando Villaescusa in the Class 2A 182-pound state championship match at Wells Fargo Arena, Plein had the foresight to know that to secure the team title for the Nikes, Walrath needed to win his match by at least eight points to get the extra half-point for a major decision.

With time winding down, Plein instructed Walrath to let Villaescusa up and get another takedown. Walrath did just that, coming away with a 12-4 major decision to not only win an individual state championship, but secure the Class 2A state team title for the Nikes.

“I just heard what the coach told me to do — cut him and get another (takedown). I just don’t know how to explain it," Walrath said. “It was a relief. I’ve never been in the finals of AAU or anything like that. I won USA state, but that was different. I’ve never been to AAU state our anything like that.”

"We knew if we could win we’d have a 5 1/2 point lead and we could hang on — maybe," Plein said. "We took a gamble and let him up and got that last takedown. Now we have a lead that can’t be surpassed.”

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The Notre Dame-West Burlington high school wrestling team celebrates after winning the Class 2A state championship Saturday, February 19, 2022 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Notre Dame-West Burlington closed out its historic season with the biggest piece of history yet. Buoyed by state championships from senior Blaine Frazier (132) and CJ Walrath (182), the Nikes won the Class 2A state team title with 109 points, edging Osage by a half-point.

By the time the lights went out late Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena, The Nikes had a state team trophy, a pair of state champions in Walrath and senior Blaine Frazier (132) and a state runner-up in sophomore Carter West (106).

Of the nine wrestlers ND-WB took to Des Moines, seven of them came home with medals for placing in the top eight at their respective weight class. 

Freshman Kaiden Deitzenbach was fourth at 113, freshman CJ Davis was seventh at 120, junior Isaiah Fenton took seventh at 152 and senior Sam West finished eighth at 160.

In addition, ND-WB took seventh in Class 2A at the State Dual Team Championships on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.

“I’m really happy for these kids. All of them. They had some pretty lofty goals and they achieved them all. It was a total team effort," said ND-WB Hall of Fame coach Bill Plein, who led Columbus to five straight team championships back in the 1990s. “You always believe it, but you know you have to work to get it. I knew we had some talented kids and we had some kids who were developing. It was always possible. We just had to put the work in.”

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Notre Dame-West Burlington junior CJ Walrath celebrates after winning the Class 2A 182-pound state championship Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Walrath, after a tentative start, got back to his usual dominating self, scoring five takedowns and one of the slickest reversals on the entire state tournament.

“I was kind of questioning it at first, but then once I started getting one after anotherI started getting more and more confident during the match, more and more comfortable. Just dome stuff out there and I was able to score," Walrath said. “I was just trying early in the tournament to get it done as quick as I could and save up energy for later in the tournament when it matters most, in the placement rounds. Just trying to get on my offense and put on a show. Show people what I can do.”

Notre Dame-West Burlington senior Blaine Frazier finally got the 200-pound gorilla off his back. His third trip to the state finals proved to be the charm as he came away with a 5-3 win over McKinley Robbins of Greene County to win the Class 2A 132-pound state championship.

Notre Dame-West Burlington senior Blaine Frazier has his had raised after winning the Class 2A 132-pound state championship Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

“Every year this has been a disappointing tournament for me. This year I finally made my goal," said Frazier, who capped off a 53-0 season with the 205th and final win of his high school career. “I finally was able to pull it through. The other years I wasn’t mentally tough enough to pull it through. This year I’ve been telling myself the whole year, ‘I deserve this. I deserve this. This is mine. It’s mine to take. I can’t give it away to anyone.’ I went out there and did what I had to do to win it.”

“I always believe you don’t ask kids to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself," Plein said. "Our kids have worked incredibly hard. They’ve done everything we asked of them and it’s paid off. We had great senior leadership all year. We walked in here tonight and I had three kids in the finals. I thought Carter West wrestled his heart out. He just came up a little short but he’ll be back. Then we turn it over to two of our leaders. Blaine got rid of some demons tonight. He got his first title and avenged a defeat. And then CJ."

ND-WB sophomore Carter West came up just short in his quest for gold, dropping a 7-3 decision to Jace Hedeman of Union in the Class 2A 106-pound title tilt.

“I think I wrestled good. I wish I would have won, but so everybody does," West said. “I knew that kid was going to be big. I could see that when I walked out there. I knew he was going to be fast, too. I’ve seen him a couple times throughout the year in my bracket. I knew I had to do my best to get in on my shots. He just did a good job of stopping it.”

Notre Dame-West Burlington sophomore Carter West (top) placed second in Class 2A at 106 pounds Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

In an ironic twist, it took Plein four years to win a state team championship at Columbus. This is his fourth season with the Nikes.

“I don’t do anything. I just drive the bus," Plein said. "They’re the ones who play the game. I didn’t do anything but drive the bus. The kids are the ones who did all the work. They’re the ones who should be rewarded.”

Perhaps it was only fitting that ND-WB won the Class 2A state team title. The Nikes won it on the same night at Mike Sayre was inducted into the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association's Hall of Fame for his 43 years of officiating wrestling and football. Sayre was the program's first coach when it was brought out of mothballs a little over a decade ago. Sayre was on hand Saturday night to see the program reach the pinnacle of success.